As the crowd around Dalrymple Drive thickened in anticipation of the start of LSU’s national championship parade, 78-year old Louisianan Lane Babin stood in a rare patch of unoccupied ground and soaked everything in.
Tigers’ fans came out in droves Saturday morning to attend the coronation of the 15-0 champions of the 2019 college football season. From the Indian Mounds to Mike’s Habitat at the edge of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, lines on both sides of the street were three or four rows deep an hour before the parade started rolling at 11 a.m.
It kind of reminds you of Mardi Gras, doesn’t it?
“I’d rather do this than Mardi Gras,” Babin’s son said. Babin couldn’t help but agree.
“Yeah, this is wonderful,” Babin said.
Babin was born in Jonesville and moved to Baton Rouge 50 years ago following his service in the U.S. Navy. He has rooted for the Tigers through thick and thin, for every coach from Charles McClendon to interim Hal Hunter and beyond. He survived the dark times of the 1990s when LSU had seven losing seasons under three head coaches and he reveled in the 2003 and 2007 national championships.
But this team, this year, this championship, are special.
The head coach is from Louisiana, the first native son to coach the Tigers to a national title. Most of the players are from Louisiana. Even the athletic director is from Baton Rouge. And the Tigers won the title Monday night over Clemson 90 minutes down the road in New Orleans.
Everybody and their mother descended on campus to celebrate the national champs, but it was the Louisiana flair that turned an ordinary parade into a small-scale Mardi Gras.
“When LSU does things it’s real important to me,” Babin said. “I like Louisiana being able to be in the spotlight. It does my heart good to know that we got boys like the LSU (football team) and a college like LSU that we can all be proud of.”
LSU football has been an integral part of Louisiana’s culture since the late 1950s. There’s a reason Tiger Stadium seats 102,321 people and becomes the fourth biggest city in the state for seven Saturdays during the fall.
But in 2019, it was taken to a higher level by born-on-the-bayou head coach Ed Orgeron and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow, an Ohio native who didn’t mind LSU’s Cajun-tinged fan base spelling the end of his last name e-a-u-x.
The 2019 national championship electrified and unified our great state,” Governor John Bel Edwards said during the post-parade celebration in the PMAC. “I was always happy to see the coach after the games and he would talk about how this was a win for the football team, it was a win for the university, and it was a win for the state. And indeed it has been a great year for the state. Just think about it, 150 years of college football, and this is the best ever. Right here, right now.”
As much as it meant for the people of Louisiana it meant just as much, if not more, for Orgeron.
It wasn’t too long ago when ESPN had to apologize after his first regular season game as LSU’s coach. The network had other coaches such Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Baylor’s Matt Rhule do harsh impressions of his gravelly voice and accent, one that he shares with many LSU fans.
When the team returned from New Orleans on Tuesday, people along I-12 came out of their offices to see the Tigers off to Baton Rouge. Just recounting that was enough to make Orgeron choke up on stage Saturday.
“When we came back from the championship and the people were coming out of their workplace, I was so happy,” Orgeron said with tears glistening in his eyes. “I couldn’t be more proud to be from the state of Louisiana.”
The day’s emotion began reaching a fever pitch when Orgeron, wearing a windbreaker with the outline of the state of Louisiana, was awarded by Burrow a replica of his Heisman Trophy for the school’s trophy case.
Also, Oregron accepted the American Football Coaches Association national title trophy with its crystal football and then the CFP national title trophy.
Orgeron recognized his coaching staff (“When you have a staff like this you can win a national championship,” he said) and had his team stand one last time to receive a rousing ovation.
“This is a player driven program,” Orgeron said. “It’s all about the players, they did it. We started working last January 17, they worked for a year ongoing skill development.
“They decided they’re not going out in bars. They decided they’re going to class. They decided they’re going to do the right thing, they’re going to graduate. They decided having character is cool. They had discipline.
“But the biggest thing this team had was want-to. When you want to do something, you can accomplish anything in your life.”
The crowd of nearly 13,000 erupted with applause and cheers over every mention of the team’s success. The Golden Band from Tigerland performed each song in the PMAC with gusto and passion, especially New Orleans’ own Rebirth Brass Band’s iconic “Do Whatcha Wanna”.
It wasn’t just a celebration of a football team; it was the celebration of the state.
Tiger Stadium public address announcer Dan Borne served as master of ceremonies of the event. He delivered the perfect close to the joyful celebration with a distinctly Louisiana flair.
“Laissez les bon temps rouler until Mardi Gras, cher,” Borne proclaimed. “The party has just begun.”